Friday, May 2, 2008

Reviving a Maxattach NAS 4300: Part II

When I started writing about the NAS 4300, I thought it would be relatively short and would fit in one post. It looks like this post will expand to at least 3 articles and may become 4. The presentation of the issues requires more than I like to publish in one article. In addition, there were several issues with the free NAS software. I will address them as best I can.

Selecting the Replacement Drives and other Considerations.

To remind the reader, this box has an unusual feature of an onboard SCSI controller. This creates some unique opportunities to improve on the original setup. There is even an external SCSI connector that can be connected to a server rack like the one below it in my image.

The possibilities are:

  • 1. Replace all or some of the drives with SCSI drives and improve the performance

  • 2. Replace all the drives with ATAPI hard disk drives

  • 3. Install a SATA (4) drive SATA controller and 4 SATA hard disk drives

  • 4. Install a hardware RAID controller and matching drives (SCSI or SATA)

  • It is interesting that these are all available inside what is really a single purpose device. My choice was governed by what was available in my lab. I found 3 WD2000JB 200 GB drives. Along with the SCSI drive previously mentioned, a spare 18 GB SCSI drive, to fill out the box

    If I wanted to fill out the box maximizing cost/benefit, I would chose 4 large ATAPI drives, 500 GB to 750 GB. An interesting point of this box is that you could conceivably add a drive rack like the one in the first image of Part 1 and connect it to the external SCSI port. I believe in recycling old equipment.

    Choosing the NAS software and Operating System

    This became a real challenge. Centos which is my favorite linux distro for servers didn't install on the NAS. It turned out after attempting several installs of Centos and other NAS systems that one of the onboard memory modules was bad. The NAS comes with (3) 128 MB memory modules. I removed the bad one and was left with 256 MB. This is quite sufficient for a non-windows NAS.

    Centos is a full implementation of the Red Hat Enterprise OS and is my first choice for servers. It is well maintained and easy to install. My only gripe is that with the release of version 5, they have removed the option to install everything. As a data recovery shop we need everything including file system support for NTFS and Mac HPF. The good news is that Centos 4 installed without a problem.

    I spent way too much time testing installs for this post. I tested 3 opensource NAS distros, Openfiler, FreeNAS and SMEServer. Full reviews of each are beyond the scope of this post. This post was never meant to be a full analysis of NAS software. However, I will provide what little insight I could into each.


    This is a full featured NAS set up and management system. It is geared to large companies utilizing many servers. It allows you to manage all the servers from a single location. It is complicated and the documentation is limited. They sell a version of the "Administrator Guide" but I found it online in pdf here.

    It installed without a problem. However, it needs a primary domain controller to complete the setup. I abandoned this one after getting frustrated by it.


    FreeNAS is based on the FreeBSD OS. It has a tiny foot print of 32 MB but is a fully functional file server managed with a web interface. It was easy to install taking just a few minutes. However, it has one big drawback. It has marginal support for multiple drives. I was dissuaded from using it by number of problems others were having with the software RAID support. If you don't need software RAID is is a good choice for a simple and easy to manage NAS.

    SME Server

    I came across this implementation several years ago. It was recommended by a computer consultant who I had done some work for. It is a modified linux distro. He gave me a copy to test. It was impressive at that time for its simplicity. In its current incarnation, it is based on an older release of Centos (4.6) then I am currently using. Its major drawback is its preset configuration. It will automatically set up your drives in RAID 5 if you have 4 similar sized drives. Otherwise, you have to build the RAID set up yourself using LVM.

    Setting up the NAS

    So, as it happens you walk up to the NAS with your newly created CD and remember that the NAS doesn't come with a CD and a standard ATAPI CD drive isn't bootable. (Did I forget to mention this?) I searched for an old SCSI based CD drive and found several in my collection. Unfortunately, only one worked. You can find them available on the web but beware that as you need one that uses the old 50 pin ribbon cable connectors or the newer 68 pin connectors. You will also need the cable. I used a 68 pin cable with an adapter to a 50 pin external to a 50 pin pin internal. It took 3 different connectors. I found this internal HP drive sold on a mac site. Please note that I don't have any connection with any site recommended here. However, for $13 it seems an excellent buy. You will also need an additional 'Y' power splitter for the CD drive. I have them lying around but can be obtained from many computer parts suppliers and online.

    My 4300 NAS boots up with an option to load a boot menu by pressing F1. This brings up a fairly complicate menu with options for booting and resetting the NAS to default settings. It also allows you to fail a particular drive. You are required to set the boot option and then exit forcing a reboot. Please make sure that both the SCSI CD and SCSI hard disk are displayed in the SCSI adapter start up. The Adaptec bios will display the drive and SCSI ID.

    Installation of FreeNAS

    Installation was relatively simple although there were a few moments that could have been clearer. First download the ISO image from the FreeNAS website. Burn the ISO onto a CD using your favorite burning software. I used Nero as it comes free with my burner.

    Now, you are ready to insert the FreeNAS boot disk. To review. You have the SCSI CD drive, SCSI hard disk and the (3) IDE drives properly configured. I set the IDE drives to Primary Master and Slave and Secondary Master.

    When the system reboots after setting the boot option to CD drive, the FreeNAS CD runs without supervision. It will boot up a fully functional NAS system. However, our goal is to load the FreeNAS OS/software onto the SCSI hard disk. Here is one of the confusing parts. FreeNAS displays just its splash screen after booting. Hitting the space bar gets you to its menu management system. The last option is the install option to hard disk or flash memory. (Note the console allows you to set up the network interfaces and some other options. I will try to cover NAS setup in a future post.) The FreeNAS wiki is an excellent source for installation and configuration.

    During the installation you are given several options. I chose "Full install with data partition", followed by choosing the SCSI drive (da0) for the installation. It will complete the installation in just a few minutes. You will have to reset the bios to boot from the SCSI disk. (Note: that you can only boot from a hard disk configure as SCSI ID# 0.)

    After completing the installation, I discovered that FreeNAS doesn't deal well with software RAID. I found after researching this issue on the web that many users were dissatisfied with FreeNAS because of the software RAID problems. I ended up abandoning FreeNAS as a result.

    I returned to using the Centos Distro. I was able to create a complete NAS with many additional features using Centos. It just isn't as simple as FreeNAS. I will discuss this further in my next post.



    At July 8, 2008 at 8:19 PM , Blogger GOJYO said...

    hello, I'm doing the samething with you. I reinstalled a Debian in this box(NAS 4300), but there's a terrible problem I got. It restart automaticly about every 5 minutes. I tried everything I can but not any help. Did you got this ?

    At July 9, 2008 at 8:49 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Do you know if the memory can be upgraded on these? Im wondering if each slot can hold a 256 module, or even better yet, a 512 module.

    At July 17, 2008 at 8:11 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Check the memory that is installed. After upgrading the memory on mine, it had this same behavior. Mine is a 4100, upgraded the processor to a PIII 866, and 512meg of RAM.

    At July 18, 2008 at 9:22 PM , Blogger datarecoveryspecialist said...


    I would treat this as a hardware problem first and then look at software issues. Please try changing the memory first. As you can see from my post and the comments memory is an important factor in failures.

    At October 3, 2008 at 2:34 PM , Blogger eschw95458 said...

    Actually, You do not need a PDC for Openfiler. It can act as its own LDAP. Also, you can add users from the command line. (That is what I was doing in ver 2.2)
    BTW, I have tried to get openfiler to install with no luck. The install goes fine, but when it reboots, it just hangs at the grub line. Was there anything you turned off in the bios?

    At October 3, 2008 at 7:56 PM , Blogger eschw95458 said...

    BTW I am also having the same problem gojyo is. However if I hit f1 during the boot and in nas cmos select to disable the watchdog timer it will run fine until I restart the system. Then I am back to the same cycle.
    Have you experienced this with your unit??

    At October 4, 2008 at 8:32 PM , Blogger datarecoveryspecialist said...

    I just want to note that I haven't tried Debian on the 4300. I have successfully installed Centos versions 4 and 5 without a problem and without the restart problem. I hope to post something about Centos soon. To reiterate a prior comment. I had to pull (not replace) a memory to get it to work. I have found that motherboards are sensitive to memory types. You might try a few different types.

    At October 8, 2008 at 6:26 AM , Blogger eschw95458 said...

    So I finally have openfiler up and running. I ended up flashing the bios to the version on Supermicro's site. I believe it is ver 1.5. It probably means I won't be able to reload the original software that came with the unit, but I wouldn't have done that anyway. Also just a side note to you. I am running a single stick of 512 mem in this machine.(That is the max it will support) The advantage is it runs at 133mhz. If you use all 3 slots it drops the speed to 100mhz- it a known limitation of the chipset. I also tested ECC ram even though I thought the documentation said it didn't support it (the info could be outdated) and it worked fine.

    At October 8, 2008 at 5:56 PM , Blogger datarecoveryspecialist said...

    Thank you for you comment. I am very interested in the fact that you could flash the supermicro board. Would you mind posting details about your bios version, the version you replaced it with and your method?

    At October 9, 2008 at 1:03 PM , Blogger eschw95458 said...

    Previous version said Ambios ver 07.00.02 and had a date build date I believe was 10/22/01. Also said Nas4 Series bios v1.07
    New version Lists as Ambios 07.00.xx with build date of 10/09/02 with bios id SSR71009
    Now you could theoretically do the update with a floppy drive attached directly to the motherboard using dos. The download package includes the rom and the flash.exe. I however did not do that, I used an actual chip programmer, meaning I pulled the chip, flashed it and put it back in the unit.
    One other interesting note, it also updated the Adaptec scsi bios from (I think) 2.57 to version 3.10

    At February 17, 2009 at 12:03 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Hi All!

    I've been having a play around with one of these 4300 NAS Units.

    I've managed to install Windows Server 2003 using a SCSI CD Drive and it boots up for the first time however then won't boot after the first boot.

    I think its because of the modified BIOS. I see from a previous post that its possible to reflash it. Does anyone have the link to the one I should be downloading (Don't want to get it wrong!!)

    At February 18, 2009 at 6:02 AM , Blogger datarecoveryspecialist said...

    Hi Norty,

    I didn't try the bios update nor installation of windows server. I have it running with Centos (no update needed). I had a memory problem. Changing the memory fixed the restart problem. On the other hand I would recommend updating the bios. Check online for that motherboard. You should be able to get the latest bios update from Supermicro. If you can't find it let me know and I will check.

    At March 20, 2009 at 6:50 AM , Blogger Tank said...

    Just curious, I am able to use just 2 160GB drives in my setup and install a IDE Raid card and use this device. I am in need of a quick setup with parts that I already have available. Will reloading the BIOS delete the NAS config and let me start from scratch using my promise IDE raid 0? Thanks in advance.

    At March 23, 2009 at 6:02 AM , Blogger datarecoveryspecialist said...

    Tank, Eschw95458 has successfully flashed the bios with the one he downloaded from Supermicro's website. Once you flash the motherboard it becomes just like any other MB. You should have no problem installing any OS beyond the extraordinary.

    At March 23, 2009 at 7:35 AM , Blogger Tank said...


    Thanks for your quick response, indeed it did work I have my OS loaded (Red Hat 4) and fully functioning. I am in the process now of config my raid and I should be good to go. One more question..your config of the NAS shows a mouse port but I am unable to find on on e my device. Were there multiple motherboard configurations for the 4300?? Thanks again.

    At March 23, 2009 at 8:01 AM , Blogger datarecoveryspecialist said...

    Funny you should ask. They hid the mouse port for some unknown reason. It is in the usual place. They didn't make a cutout in the back for the connector. I unattached the motherboard to get access. Once is it set up, I use vnc to connect so the mouse issue goes away.

    At March 31, 2009 at 12:18 PM , Blogger Tank said...

    Alas, I had everything cooking with gas, my OS installed, drives config'd, looking beautiful! Located mouse port, drilled hole reinstalled and was ready to finalize everything. Went to power up and POOF! a small cloud of smoke one of the onboard chips fried. Must have gotten a metal shaving stuck somewhere and shorted out the whole dern thing. Man i was so upset. Oh well on to the next project an old IBM e series server. Thanks for all your info!!

    At February 18, 2010 at 8:20 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Great post! Thanks for sharing the great stuff, now i am going to bookmark it for my later review.

    Data Recovery


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